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America academic boycott: “Left-wing” anti-boycott arguments influenced by patriotism

February 13, 2017

This writer doesn’t pretend to speak authoritatively on detailed ideological and political conditions of Chicana/os, New Afrikans (U.S. Black nation people), and Asian-descended people in the United States. It is frustrating to even have to address the following topic. There are indications, though, that some Asian, Chican@ and New Afrikan academics aren’t on the same page regarding the boycott of international academic and scientific conferences in the United States. The related seven-country Muslim travel ban has been blocked by the U.S. federal judicial branch, but it might be unblocked or replaced.

One predictable response is that affirmative action is still needed, so there would be more Chican@s and New Afrikans with PhDs or in graduate programs to consider academic boycotts in the first place. A lack of signatures could thus become evidence to some of a need for a reform that liberals and even some conservatives could support – or a need for favorable treatment in questions of conference attendance, which could lead to research and teaching positions. The question arises what is the point of having a doctorate if it is too difficult to submit an online form to add one’s name to a pledge so circumscribed in scope and purpose. People can talk all they want about difficulties canceling reservations and registrations and putting oneself at a disadvantage by making a commitment publicly with integrity, but it is hard to deny this: there are universities with a significant number of Chican@ or New Afrikan faculty who don’t appear in one signatories list (with thousands of names) at all. Or those universities appear only with signatures of white faculty. Some Chican@ and New Afrikan professors did understand the pledge and sign it, and there appear to be campaigns at some schools; they seem to have met with some success. Clearly, others are aware of the boycott and haven’t signed the pledge yet. They have had two weeks to do so in which there has been extensive traditional media coverage and social media discussion.

One of the most outrageous things this writer has seen is statements to the effect that only people outside the United States should boycott the conferences. Nevermind that many Americans had already signed boycott pledges, and some had already made a distinction between domestic and international conferences as what Americans could and couldn’t go to. In some cases, there was no attempt to distinguish between non-Euro-Amerikans and Euro-Amerikans (U.S. white nation people). This obviously involves career-related competitive interests. What these bananas, coconuts and oreos are saying is that they and their white compatriots should be able to present, talk and network at these conferences, but not non-Americans they could be competing with – not to mention scholars, researchers and others from the Muslim travel ban countries unless they are stuck in the U.S. and decide to go to international conferences. Somehow a boycott ends up being an opportunity for AmeriKKKans to form exclusive networks with U.S. citizens and non-Amerikans who are able (economically and in terms of nationality) and willing to attend the conferences. How convenient.

Also involved is an assumption that Chican@s and New Afrikans traveling, in some cases more than two thousand miles, to a conference in New York isn’t in any way international, that the U.S. is just one nation. In the midst of activist upsurge on immigration, repression and racism/chauvinism issues, some still find it very easy to dispense with Chican@ or New Afrikan nationalism – an example and sign of the problems with opposing the travel ban by waving the Amerikan flag.

Impact on liberals, people with postgraduate education in general

Much to be preferred to such so-called support for the boycott (favorably discussing the boycott but declining to participate in it persynally) is the argument that the boycott should be reconsidered altogether because it might hurt people already opposed to the travel ban, even people the boycott is supposed to help. In this, there are echoes of old arguments against the much more extensive academic boycott of “South Africa.”

By some critics’ own (and sometimes inadvertent) admission, the signal the Azania academic boycott sent may have been more consequential than anything else the boycott did. So the reason to participate in any international boycott could just be to support a signal that is needed despite whether scholars and researchers experience more pain than politicians and how much.

As to what Amerikan academics and researchers oppose/support or think, this writer won’t mind referring to data that may at first glance seem to support boycott opponents’ arguments. In September 2015, for example, 67% of U.S. adults with postgraduate degrees approved of accepting more refugees.(1) Only 47% of those with only some college education did, according to Pew Research Center. What the survey question was referring to was an announcement of increasing the annual number of admissions from all countries to 100,000 and possibly Obama’s decision earlier in that month to increase the number of 2016 fiscal year Syria war refugee admissions to 10,000. These numbers may seem large. They are minimal, however, given what some smaller countries were doing. And about 33% of Amerikans with postgraduate degrees didn’t approve of even that. Additionally, about 47% of amerikans with postgraduate degrees didn’t think the U.S. should have been doing more “to address the refugee situation.” For the same week the Pew survey was conducted, Gallup reported an 80% Obama job approval rating among liberals, a 90% rating among liberal Democrats, and a 57% rating among U.S. adults with postgraduate education.

Not all amerikans with graduate degrees are academics or attend conferences, but it seems safe to say many academics and scientists didn’t support refugee admissions increases then, and many don’t support refugee admissions from certain countries now or support letting in only low numbers. To say the conference boycott is a circular firing squad is misleading. Even if many amerikans who already oppose the travel ban would be hurt by a conference boycott, that may not outweigh the need to affect those who don’t oppose the travel ban – or the need to send a message to/through others, including people outside the United States.

In regard to the perception of focusing on academics, scientists, and researchers, it is true a variety of groups are worse on certain questions, than amerikans with graduate degrees in certain occupations. That fact, though, could be viewed as supporting a case for a general boycott of the United States. In the case of Azania and Apartheid, the academic boycott became part of a larger boycott of the settler republic. So, again, there could be a reason for the supposedly innocent academics etc. to endure some pain. There could also be a reason for some, themselves making comparisons to Azania, to oppose an academic boycott of the U.S. in relation to the threat of a larger boycott.

No doubt boycotts can be painful for everyone in the short term. Everyone should understand that about boycotts in general and not find it too remarkable in the case of the U.S. conference boycott. Chican@s and New Afrikans may perceive a sacrifice in not attending conferences Euro-Amerikans attend, but that – not just tweeting some words and hashtags, holding solidarity signs at protests (but then not signing any boycott pledge), or making statements about “intersectionality” – is what internationalism is about. Expecting non-Amerikans to make a greater sacrifice is ass-backwards. Some have absolutely no problem with boycotting Trump wine, Ivanka Trump stilettos, or (informally, at least) stores operated by Orthodox Jews, but balk at the idea of holding an internationally marketed conference in Toronto or Halifax that doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be in the United States in the first place.

Azania and Palestine

Even more difficult to understand are those who don’t actually say much to compare/contrast Apartheid with U.S. policy, or see little difference between academic boycotts of the two countries, and yet arrive at the judgment that the amerikan conference boycott is a bad thing while making, at most, a few skeptical remarks about the Azania academic boycott.

Thousands of people are scared to leave the U.S. because the dust hasn’t settled yet about the travel ban, but most of the people the academic boycott of the white state in Azania was supposed to help were clearly inside Azania. That is one difference. Also, Azania ended up as one of the richer African neo-colonies, but still in the Third World. Today, the average white there is still rich in comparison with most blacks. Yet, it may surprise the reader to learn, for example, that typical white, black and brown household incomes in the First World U.$. are all higher than even the average white household income in Azania. The point isn’t to criticize any Azania boycott, let alone to defend Apartheid. Rather, the notion that there shouldn’t also be a boycott against the United States could reflect a warped view of economic status in the world, or alternatively some idea that the generally rich population of the United States is particularly progressive. The reality is that Chican@ and New Afrikan academics and researchers who don’t participate in the U.S. international conference boycott are, regardless of boycott participation, likely to end up as reactionaries rich by global standards and not too different from many Euro-Amerikans economically and politically.

Chican@s and New Afrikans nonetheless face a choice between pursuing an abusive marriage to Euro-Amerika based on wealth, or pursuing their own destinies. Chican@s and New Afrikans can start on a real path to enlightenment after recognizing their national identities distinct from Euro-Amerika.

Some are puzzled that some supporters of the U.S. conference boycott don’t also support a boycott of Israel.(2) The real question is: why are there not more people clearly supporting the very limited, academic U.S. boycott – or anything more extensive – among those who support a comprehensive boycott of the Israeli entity? The U.S. settler entity participates in colonial oppression of the Palestinian nation, colonial oppression of First Nations, relates to some nations in a colonial one-sided way in immigration and travel, and incarcerates black, brown and red people at higher rates than black people were incarcerated under Apartheid. Why do people risk making a total or general boycott of Israel look antisemitic by not also supporting even a boycott of the United $tates confined to conferences? Can pro-Amerikan opportunists not at least see that supporting some U.S. boycott is a way to justify an Israel boycott?

The answer could involve U.$. hegemony and ideological influence and, in the case of Chican@s and New Afrikans, a need to maintain relations with Euro-Amerika. In some cases, it is clear that comparing Israel/Palestine to Azania, and then supporting only Israel boycotts and not amerika boycotts, involves a belief that Israeli annexation of more Palestinian territory and I$raeli citizenship for more Palestinians within a single state, would be progress equivalent to the “multiracial,” “multicultural” utopia that the United States is sometimes portrayed as for global public opinion purposes. In other words, supporting boycotts of Israel and not boycotts of the U$A could involve a rejection of Chican@ and New Afrikan nationalism.

The world’s oppressed should take notice. If Chican@s and New Afrikans fail to overcome patriotic thinking in sufficient numbers, there is always “Make America Mexico Again.” There is also the possibility of First Nations and the world deciding on an arrangement with less input from those who refused to leave the white master’s house and in fact helped protect it. ◊

• “In solidarity with people affected by the ‘Muslim ban’: call for an academic boycott of international conferences held in the US.”
• “America boycott movement growing in spite of Democrats’ pro-AmeriKKKan disagreement with Trump,” 2017 February.
• “U.S. favorability needs to go lower: Kaepernick, nationhood, and rethinking the intersection of New Afrikan and Palestinian struggles,” 2016 September.

1. “Mixed views of initial U.S. response to Europe’s migrant crisis,” 2015 September 29.
2. “If you’re willing to support a boycott of US academic conferences over Trump’s ban, why not BDS?” 2017 February 5.

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